Former U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan criticized Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's controversial ordinance aimed at fining gang members and seizing their property, saying it won't work to reduce skyrocketing crime.
Most gang members "don't have any assets to speak of," said Duncan, who is considering a challenge to Lightfoot in the 2023 mayor's race. His comments Wednesday follow an address to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce on a series of proposals he said could reduce high crime.
In September, Lightfoot unveiled a proposal called the Victims' Justice Ordinance that, if approved, could allow judges or court officers to impose fines as high as $10,000 for each offense and seize "any property that is directly or indirectly used or intended for use in any manner to facilitate street gang-related activity."
It also calls for the seizure of any property that gangs obtained through illegal means such as drug-dealing or other crimes. The measure has been criticized by civil rights lawyers, who said the ordinance would invite civil rights abuses. Fraternal Order of Police president John Catanzara also said it's a "waste of everyone's time to pretend she is doing something of substance."
Lightfoot faces broader criticism of the ordinance.
Several aldermen pushed back on her asset forfeiture proposal, saying it would end up hurting working class families rather than effectively zeroing in on gangs' ill-gotten gains.
In an attempt to build more City Council support for the measure, the mayor last week brought forward a retooled ordinance that seeks to more narrowly target "gang leaders" for forfeiture to avoid harming low-level gang associates.
The Lightfoot administration's latest plan also gives families of people who get cars or other assets seized a way to appeal on the grounds other family members need the vehicles for legitimate purposes.
Still, at a Public Safety Committee hearing on the ordinance Friday, several aldermen remained unconvinced, saying it seems like "a solution searching for a problem." No committee vote has yet been scheduled on the measure.
For her part, Lightfoot has downplayed the civil rights lawyers' concerns and said the ordinance will allow the city to go after gangs' "blood money."
On Wednesday, Duncan proposed sending more police officers to the department's patrol division and finding ways to shift responsibility for responding to calls about traffic accidents and community complaints from cops to social workers or other professionals. Also a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools under Mayor Richard M. Daley, Duncan later founded Chicago CRED, an anti-violence organization.
He also wants the city to spend $400 million a year on violence prevention street outreach groups and find jobs for high school students and residents leaving prison.
Some of Duncan's proposals mirror actions already taken by Lightfoot. The mayor has expanded city funding for violence prevention programs, for instance, though Duncan and others propose City Hall spend more.
For her part, Lightfoot has criticized Duncan's push to spend more on community anti-violence measures, likening his proposals to "defunding the police." Duncan in 2020 wrote an op-ed saying the city could take hundreds of millions from police vacancies and spend them on outreach and alternative response programs.
Asked about the criticism, Duncan denied the charge.
"What we want to do is rethink the role of police. Having them focus on the violence, having them focus on homicides and shootings, trying to prevent the next one, trying to solve the one that just happened, that's the best use of their time and energy," Duncan said.
He also accused Lightfoot of defunding the police. Lightfoot's 2020 budget eliminated hundreds of vacant police positions while hundreds more officers have been lost through retirements and attrition. Her next budget, however, boosted police spending.